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By Pam Woolway

KAUAI, Hawaii (The Garden Island, Aug. 29) – Ripe and roasted, filled with butter and brown sugar is how Fae Hirayama remembers eating ‘ulu in her grandmother’s kitchen.

Often referred to as breadfruit, the tree that bears this fruit is a common sight around the island. If you think you don’t know what a breadfruit tree looks like, think again. The leaves are a favorite theme for Hawaiian quilts.

"The oral history is that the shadow of the tree fell across a sheet and became the inspiration for a quilt," said Hirayama.

Looks can be intimidating when it comes to eating a piece of fruit, though. Breadfruit looks like a cannon ball with the unfortunate complexion of an adolescent.

"People are afraid of it," said Dr. Diane Ragone, director of the Breadfruit Institute at the National Tropical Botanical Garden.

The Breadfruit Institute’s mission is to promote the study and use of breadfruit for food and reforestation.

"We want to get people to grow and cultivate it," she said.

Ultimately, Ragone would like to see varieties grown here for year-round production.

"Breadfruit isn’t widely used in Hawai‘i even though it’s been a local food source in the Pacific for a couple thousand years," she said.

Europeans discovered breadfruit in the 1500s and described the roasted fruit as resembling fresh baked bread.

This multi-purpose tree is easy to grow and requires little labor or material. The fruit is generous and versatile.

"You can literally use it for anything," said Ragone. "People tend to pick it too green, though, and then don’t know what to do with it."

"The time to pick them is when the color lightens and the hexagonal pattern gets a little bit brown, with slight cracking."

Hirayama said she picks the fruit at different stages of ripeness depending on how she plans to use it in a recipe.

"When still green but mature, it is my potato, taro and sometimes rice substitute," wrote Hirayama in the forward to her self-published book, "The Breadfruit Cookbook."

Breadfruit is one of the "good" carbohydrates. "It’s one of the only carbohydrates that is an excellent source of fiber," she said.

Ragone has a strategy for the gastronomically timid. "What I serve to my non-breadfruit eating friends is breadfruit nachos," said Ragone.

She recommends putting the fruit in the fridge to firm up. "It’s easier to cut that way."

Then slice the fruit thick or thin. "I like cast iron," she said. "I just put a little pat of butter in the pan and keep it over low heat. I brown them, then flip them and add grated cheese on top."

She serves the sautéed breadfruit on a plate with avocado and salsa. "Use them like a tortilla."

The Breadfruit Institute Web site ( touts the health benefits of the fruit. It is an excellent source of vitamin B in its unripe state, and once the starch is converted into sugar, the fruit becomes rich in vitamin C. Breadfruit is a source of dietary fiber and potassium, calcium and folate.

Hirayama planted a third-generation tree given to her by her grandparents. The proliferation of the tree was the impetus for her to throw annual ‘ulu dinners in fall when the tree was packed with fruit. After five years of experimenting with recipes among friends, Hirayama compiled a small volume of breadfruit recipes.

The beauty of breadfruit is that it can be eaten at all stages of maturity. Hirayama uses small immature fruit to substitute artichoke in her savory recipes and when fully ripe, she uses the fruit as a replacement for yam, pumpkin or banana.

Beware of the sap while harvesting though; the gluey substance is in fact, latex. Even while picking the fruit from the tree, wear your coveralls. When the fruit is picked early the sap runs the most.

"What I do," said Ragone. "Is pick them, wash them in the sink, then cut and quarter them. Steam them skin-side down with a little salt. You don’t have to peel them. You can eat the skin, in fact."

When your tree is producing more than you can eat, "steam the slices until tender and freeze," Ragone said.

Ragone has well over 100 recipes for breadfruit that will eventually find their way into a cookbook. "Someday I hope to have a breadfruit cook-off like the one on Maui," she said.

Eventually The Breadfruit Institute plans to make different varieties of the tree available locally.

The height of the breadfruit season is around the corner. While you may see the tempting green orbs dangling from the tree now, the fruit peaks from September to November.

"It’s usually picked too green and sold too green at the farmer’s market," Ragone said.

She descried the difference between ripe and mature fruit: mature means firm. Mature fruit works well in recipes as a starch substitute. Ripe means sweet and soft and the fruit is best used as a desert.

To find "The Breadfruit Cookbook" by Hirayama, visit the Kapa‘a Longs Drug Store.

Traditional uses of breadfruit in the Pacific Islands:




Leaf (yellowing leaf brewed into tea):

The Garden Island:

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